Imran Khan’s existential crisis in Pakistan: To cut or not to cut defence expenditure

Last week, when the US government announced it would “re-programme” $300 million in military assistance to Pakistan, it was only the latest in a series of actions that have ratcheted up pressure on Islamabad.

A year ago, when US President Donald Trump announced his Afghanistan strategy, Pakistan came in for mention only in the context of his pledge to put more pressure on the country. Trump’s tweet on the first day of this year set the tone: the US has been foolish in giving Pakistan more than $33 billion over the past 15 years, “receiving only lies and deceit” in return. In an indication of his priorities, Trump blamed Pakistan for giving safe haven to the very terrorists that the US troops were fighting in Afghanistan. “No more!” he thundered.

His administration has stuck to this line since then. Even as the Pakistani economy hurtled towards a deeper crisis, Washington has remained unsympathetic. For the first time in years, the Trump administration suspended a military education and training programme and excluded over 60 Pakistani military officers from various US defence academies. The financial cost of suspending this programme was trivial, but the signal was massive and aimed directly at the Pakistani military establishment.

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